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It's virtually impossible to predict how much money will be involved in the settlement of a mesothelioma claim without knowing specific details of the claim and the medical history of the plaintiff. But history has shown that an overwhelming majority of the cases never reach the courtroom. Cases usually end in a settlement.
Settlement amounts are often tied to the cost of medical expenses, lost wages, physical and mental distress and bills that accumulate from moving forward with an asbestos-related illness. Of course, they're also linked to the strength of a plaintiff's case, which brings into play the disease diagnosis, the health condition of the plaintiff (or loved one) and the degree of perceived liability on the part of the defendant(s).
- A Buchanan County (Missouri) Circuit Court Judge approved a settlement in 2011 worth $10 million to Nancy Lopez, a Jackson County courthouse employee, who was exposed to the asbestos during a renovation project done by U.S. Engineering Company.
- A Montana judge in 2011 approved a $43 million settlement in Libby, Montana. But because the settlement covered more than 1,300 miners and their families, individual settlements ranged from only $500 to $61,000.
- The family of a New Jersey construction worker received a $2.1 million settlement after he died of mesothelioma, but a Navy veteran received settlements totally $461,000 after he developed asbestos-related lung cancer.
- A boilermaker in New York received a $3.7 million settlement after developing lung cancer from asbestos exposure, while a building maintenance worker received a $2 million settlement after developing mesothelioma.
Exact settlement figures are usually considered private and claimants are often bound by a confidentially agreement, although from time to time settlement amounts to reach the public eye. Those amounts can range from a few thousand dollars to millions of dollars.
According to a recent Mealey's Litigation Report, the average mesothelioma trial award is an estimated $2.4 million. The average mesothelioma settlement is between $1 million and $1.4 million and typically is paid from multiple defendants. Some are considerably higher, others significantly lower. No two cases are alike.
The settlement process doesn't start out as a settlement. It starts with a mesothelioma attorney preparing to present a case to a judge and jury.
"We're prepared to take every one of our cases to trial. A very small percentage, though, ever get to a verdict," said Dan Kraft, an attorney for Weitz & Luxenberg who won a $22 million asbestos-related verdict against Goodyear in 2011.
If the defendant has settled – or lost – cases in the past, it may want to settle the latest claim quickly without going through the case process again. However, settling early may not provide proper compensation for your expenses or for the damage asbestos exposure has done to your life.
A defendant usually first will offer an amount much lower than what it can, and will pay. You may benefit from holding out for another (better) offer. This is one example where an experienced mesothelioma attorney can help you evaluate your options.
Even right before a mesothelioma trial starts, the defendant's lawyers may make another settlement offer. If no settlement is reached before trial, yet another settlement offer could come during the trial. What's more, if there is more than one defendant in the case - if you sue multiple companies, which is common - some companies may settle while others may choose to take their chances at trial.
"The great majority settle before (trial)," Kraft said. "The pressure of a trial allows us more negotiating power. As the trial gets closer, everyone is keenly aware of what might happen. The reason defendants settle is that they realize they made the asbestos product, and we've done everything possible to prove the liability, the case against them."
One of the reasons lawsuits are settled out of court is when a defendant fears it can't win the case.
Some of the reasons that can encourage a defendant to settle:
- The discovery of information that would likely lead to a favorable verdict for the plaintiff
- A compelling deposition that favors the plaintiff
- Lack of time to complete necessary research before trial
- Sudden unavailability of a key witness or expert needed to win the case
- Mounting legal fees
The process of settling your case probably will include the defendant's insurance company. That should not concern you or impact you. This is another area your attorney will handle, but your attorney will get your approval before accepting or rejecting any offer.
If you do agree to settle your case with a defendant, you will have to drop your claims against that defendant. You may also have to agree to keep the settlement terms private. As part of the settlement, the defendant will not necessarily admit responsibility. These details are all part of the settlement process, things your attorney will negotiate on your behalf.
Here are 10 other publicized settlements in mesothelioma cases:
- A Pearl Harbor shipyard worker who developed mesothelioma from asbestos exposure received a $9.8 million settlement.
- A construction worker who died in his 40's from asbestos exposure received a $9.1 million settlement.
- A Navy veteran who developed mesothelioma received a $5.8 million settlement.
- A 72-year-old Navy veteran received a $4 million settlement after being diagnosed with mesothelioma.
- A retired New York boilermaker received a $3,797,083 settlement after forming lung cancer from asbestos exposure.
- A building maintenance worker received a $2 million settlement after developing mesothelioma.
- A Navy submarine worker who developed mesothelioma received a $1.7 million settlement.
- The widow of a Navy veteran who developed mesothelioma received a $1.3 million settlement.
- A New Jersey construction worker received a $2.1 million settlement after dying of mesothelioma.
- A Navy veteran received settlements totaling $461,000 after developing asbestos-related lung cancer.
Factors That Affect Settlement Amounts
Anyone considering filing an asbestos-related lawsuit should understand what affects any settlement amount. Certain factors are more relevant than others as the defendant decides whether a settlement is warranted.
Aspects of a case that influence a settlement amount range from personal hardships to third-party liability. If evidence clearly shows that asbestos exposure negatively affected your life, in addition to having other documentation in order, you will have a better chance of a higher settlement.
Medical Expenses and Lost Wages
As most mesothelioma patients deal with the hardships of cancer, they also undergo financial difficulties as the costs of medical expenses like treatment, doctor visits and medicines mount. Furthermore, because patients need to focus on treating their disease, they may be unable to working, causing a loss of wages and other income.
Medical expenses and lost wages from asbestos exposure typically add to settlement totals. Depending on the financial hole that a patient is in with medical expenses and bills, a settlement may be viewed as the best option for them because trials may take long periods of time to conclude.
During the late 1900s, research showed a definitive link between asbestos exposure and the development of diseases like mesothelioma. Companies that produced asbestos-containing products eventually become aware of the dangers that their products posed to consumers and employees.
In cases where the manufacturer knowingly allowed asbestos-containing products to harm people, the potential financial liability may be enormous. Settling with plaintiffs may be the best way to minimize expenses as some historic cases have warranted awards in the tens of millions of dollars.
Number of Companies Being Sued
During a patient's history, he or she may have been exposed to asbestos through more than one product. As a result, during litigation, claims are often filed against multiple companies who manufacture asbestos-containing products. Most claims now involve between 20 and 30 different defendants. In the event of a settlement, all defendants will be required to participate in the payment to the mesothelioma patient.
State of Case
Proving liability, negligence and wrongdoing on the part of a defendant may or may not be easy, depending on where the claim is filed and how exposure occurred. As litigation revolving asbestos-related claims have filled the court system, some states have actively changed the way this process works in their state.
Different amounts of evidence and proof will be required in different states. If you are considering filing an asbestos-related lawsuit, consider researching the trends and requirements in your state so that you understand what will be expected of you.
The totality of factors that determine settlement amounts is already well understood by trust funds established by companies that manufacture asbestos-containing products. The factors have been calculated and weighed based on importance, forming an equation-like matrix that these trusts funds will use to determine settlement amounts. Some factors include the patient's age, specifics of the cancer diagnosis, level of asbestos exposure, and past health records.
Depending on the criteria of the case, there will be a settlement amount assigned to that plaintiff. This means that settlement amounts are pre-determined based on qualifying factors. For example, a mesothelioma patient who smoked and worked as a boilermaker for 10 years may receive one settlement amount while a mesothelioma patient who worked as painter, who didn't smoke or have prior health issues, will receive another settlement amount. Each factor of each situation will be assigned values and will be calculated accordingly.
At the end of the day, no settlement amount will return health to a mesothelioma patient. Legal action simply provides compensation to the patient for damages while financially punishing the company or companies that are responsible.
Keep in mind that your attorney will receive a percentage of any award or settlement. The percentage can vary if you negotiate a settlement rather than win in court. When determining the minimum acceptable amount of a settlement, be sure to account for the percentage your attorney will receive. These percentages will be determined at the beginning of your case, and your attorney usually will not take any money until the case is finalized and you have received compensation.
You will likely receive your compensation in installments rather than in one lump sum, especially if the settlement is very large. Exactly how you want your payments is something you should discuss with your attorney during the settlement process.
What To Do Next?
If you or someone you know is a mesothelioma patient who is considering taking legal action, ensure that you take the necessary steps to position your case for the best chance of success. Contact the right legal professionals, have the right documentation and take all the proper action. It may make the difference from you receiving a modest settlement or a historic one.
To receive free guidance on your legal options, contact the Mesothelioma Center by calling (800) 615-2270 or completing the form on this page. You will be able to speak with a Patient Advocate who will be dedicated to getting you the assistance you need.